How to Write Effective Lesson Plan Aims
And why they’re essential for language teaching.
Without lesson aims, you might as well give up and go home because you suck.
Yet, for an embarrassingly long time, I didn’t write any aims for my lesson plans. Sure, I learned all about them on my TEFL course. Yeah, they made sense. But I was busy and had been told to follow the course book (“two pages of the class book every lesson in class, and one page from the student’s book for homework!”). Surely my aims had just been set for me, for every class?
For the sake of a minute to set my aims for each class, I could have become a much better teacher so much faster.
To avoid my cringe-worthy mistakes, and catapult yourself into realms of teaching awesomeness, grab a cup of tea and carry on reading.
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What is a Lesson Aim & Why Should I Care?
An aim can be anything you want your students to achieve in your class.
Having aims will make you a better teacher, delivering better lessons, whilst your students learn whilst all of you have more fun.
I like to choose an aim for my students and a personal aim for myself (see later). This can be flexible and depend on your students, your syllabus, and your academic manager.
Write your aims before you start your plan. This is what your learners to be better able to do by the end of the lesson. Now you know this, you can plan your lesson by working backwards — the start of the lesson should be pitched at the level where they currently are.
How to Choose Your Lesson Aims
Your ultimate guide is your students. What do they most need to know? It may not be what the course book says they should learn next (gasp!).
The coursebook and I usually agree less than fifty per cent of the time on what to teach next.
However, don’t get in trouble by not teaching what your school requires, even if you think your students need it. Use your common sense, and find a balance. If there’s a real problem, then speak to your academic manager to see if something can be worked out.
How to Write Your Lesson Aims
I always start my lesson plan aims with ‘By the end of the lesson, learners will be better able to…’
This allows every learner to achieve the lesson’s aim. If you write ‘the learners will be able to…’ then one of two things will happen:
Every learner will achieve the goal (hurrah!), but that almost certainly means it was too easy for most learners (boo!)
The weaker learners will be left behind and not achieve the goal. Even the stronger learners may not be able to achieve it consistently. Leading to you feeling like you failed.
So start by using ‘will be better able to….’
I used to use the SMART goal setting model (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound — more about this here).
I don’t anymore. As an acronym that’s designed for the business world, some aspects weren’t appropriate for classes (i.e. ‘Measurable’ — you don’t need to accurately measure improvement for every learner, every lesson), and some were overly obvious (i.e. ‘Time-bound’ — it’s a lesson aim, for a lesson plan — you know it’s for a single lesson, and you know how long your lesson is, right?)
So instead, I use the following criteria (it looks more complicated than it is, don’t worry):
1. Required by syllabus/curriculum
Remember to stay within the rules of your school’s curriculum. There’s no point getting into trouble by deviating wildly.
Think of your learners! What topic and context will they find engaging? What level of language will be challenging but achievable?
Time to be specific. What exactly do you want them to learn? Remember the four layers of language from ‘How to Set a Context’? What is the function and form you will ask learners to use?
You’re not a mind reader. Just because you teach, it doesn’t mean they’ve learned it. You need to make sure you know what you’re going to see or hear, that will tell you if your learners are better able to do what you want them to.
Putting it all Together
Here’s how I’d put together an aim:
In this case, presumably, the learners are in the process of looking for jobs themselves and need brushing up on their modals. You can see the language required by the curriculum, and the aim itself is specific because it includes the four layers of language (topic, context, function, form):
Oh, and don’t forget that you can speed up writing your aims (and all your planning and administrative work) with this technique here.
BONUS! Personal Aims
Would you like to improve as a teacher? Of course!
The best way I’ve found is always to try to improve something, and the way to do that is to have a personal lesson aim.
It might only be something minor, like making sure I give my instructions in the right order. Or it could be that I want to build rapport with a quieter class. Either way, it’s building my skills in the classroom, just as I want my other aims to develop my students’ skills.
See you again in two weeks.
Whenever you're ready, there are three ways I can help you:
1. Learn how to plan better, faster and stress-free with my book Lesson Planning for Language Teachers (90 ratings, 4.5⭐ on Amazon).
2. Develop calm students, a relaxed mind and a classroom full of learning with my book Essential Classroom Management (16 ratings, 4.5⭐ on Amazon).
3. Improve your teaching in five minutes daily with my Reflective Teaching Practice Journal (4 ratings, 4.5⭐ on Amazon).